Facets of Lucy

Looking at the various side of a life

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My Dear and Great Friend

“My Dear and Great Friend”.  So began a touching three page, hand-written letter.  It was addressed to my step-father, building on a friendship begun in a time of war.

If you are younger than a certain age (say 30), it is entirely possible that you have never written a letter.  At the rate things are going with the USPS, I suggest you try it soon.  Letters are a much more personal and permanent communication than an email, tweet or text could ever be.  For one thing, each person’s handwriting is uniquely theirs and even that varies by mood and purpose.  You see a woman’s love letter and even the loops in the letters say romance.  Watch that same woman write an angry diatribe at a politician, a  friend who did her wrong or a partner and you’ll see where the pen pressed down deeply in the paper, where her writing slants up or down and where the letters get bigger for emphasis. And a signature, unspoiled by the speed we sign our name at a retail checkout is a part of one’s identity.  Think about where else you see the word, like the phrase “signature style” – doesn’t that mean a style that is yours alone?

A hand-written letter is more than a communication, it is a gift.  Well-written, poignant, funny, angry – whatever, they are read and re-read, shared and kept to read again another day.  I have a love letter from an old boyfriend from when I was in high school.  Its very sweet and romantic, right up  to the moment when he blows smoke from a joint on a sand crab and it dies.  Well, he was young.  There’s a letter form a boy in college, apologizing for standing me up.  Truth be told, I was mad.  But this letter contained every trite phrase ever composed.  He didn’t mean it to be a joke but it made me laugh and I never looked his way again.  But the letter I kept and brought out for a good laugh when needed. One special letter came from my husband’s grandmother when she heard we’d gotten engaged.  Her letter was more than congratulations.  She shared the highs and lows of her marriage, her philosophy on making a marriage work (with special attention to the “modern woman’s emphasis on work” which was actually quite astute.  I still have the letter from the first politician (local) who wrote me to invite me to be an official member of his campaign.  There are letters from my grandfather – what a treasure!  Letters from my father who was stationed abroad and so missed my high school graduation.  Actually, as a child, I would write letters to my father wherever he was stationed and he, a frustrated would-be English teacher, would send them back corrected in red ink.  He corrected spelling and chided me not to use worn-out greetings like “How are you?  I am fine” as we were taught to do in school.  Yes.  In school.  Children used to learn how to write a proper social letter and business letter as part of their English lessons.

Letters offer more than memories; they are a way to track history.  Did you know that Churchill and Roosevelt kept up secret correspondence throughout World War II?  They have proven to be a valuable source to learn what these world leaders  were thinking.  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were also great correspondents whose letters offer great historical insight. (Trivia: both died on July 4, 1826 within hours of each other.).  Letter writers don’t have to be famous to give us a look at history.  In my family, we have my stepfather’s correspondence during and after World War II.  Letters from home show the impact on the homefront. But the letters from friends he made overseas offer a different look into postwar rebuilding and shortages and how much the U.S. was admired and trusted.

With technology changing at a faster and faster pace, its an easy argument to make that, no matter how beautifully you write words and compose letters, emails, tweets, texts and whatever comes next to make these formats dinosaurs, its hard to imagine keeping them around in the same way.  Even if you keep print copies or digital copies, they won’t be as expressive as an actual letter.

If you’re even remotely interested, I have a challenge for you.  Get a piece of paper or two.  Its very hard to actually buy stationery anymore.  Write a hand-written letter to someone who is important to you.  It doesn’t have to be long but make it heartfelt.  Actually, send two. Send one to someone older than you who will be touched by your gesture and likely to write back.  You need the experience of receiving a letter as much as sending one.  and make the second one to whoever you choose, regardless of age.  If they’re younger than you, you’ll be giving them a gift they may never get again.  I swear to you I have no stock in the U.S. Postal Service.  This exercise will only cost you $.88 for two stamps.  But the letters will be, as they say, priceless.



Life in Black and White

I’ve never been a talented photographer but I love photographs.  I remember our family’s old Brownie camera  and how it felt to look down into the camera and snap that shot of the family dog.  The only time I tried to develop some skills was when I was working towards a Girl Scout badge in photography. I earned the badge but never did learn where the sun was supposed to be relative to your subject and I’m sure it  showed.

I especially love black and white photographs,particularly old ones.   They draw me in and make me want to look closer than ones in color.  My other blog, “Al’s War: One Man’s Journey Through WW 2”, features exclusively black and white photos due to the time period.  Most of them seem bleak, but I think its quite fitting of the time and what they were going through.

But I’ve used primarily old family photos for this blog, too.  My grandmother had a room lined with old photo albums.  She had inherited them and didn’t necessarily know who was in each picture.  Even as a child I loved to look at them.  My mother said recently that her mother didn’t keep photographs or care about that, which surprises me because that’s not what I remember.  Now most of those photos belong to me, and while I don’t know them all, I’m fascinated by these people, my family, in the varied situations.  I mean, look at my grandmother (not the same one) crossing this rope bridge in a dress and pearls:  

I don’t think you could get me to cross that bridge unless I had a harness or  was on my hands and knees.  And I sure wouldn’t be wearing a nice dress.  But times change and we women have, too.  I wonder what she would think of her great-granddaughter on another bridge?

And what about this next shot below?  No, I don’t know exactly who they are but I know they are my relatives and that I had summer picnics and swam at this same location, long after they did, on a river bank near my aunt and uncle’s house in Virginia .

in Virginia

You know why they’re just sitting there?  I guarantee they’ve had the picnic lunch and been told that they have to stay out of the water for an hour to digest.  Why that was I don’t know but I heard it for years.  Lastly for now, one more picture that I always enjoy.  Happy Easter!

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Consider the Middle Child

I am a middle child.  Have you read articles about how birth order affects personality and development and wondered how true and valid they were?  Growing up, I always felt that the middle position was the worst to be in.  I had an older sister who was the classic adored first-born but picked on me both verbally and physically well into our teen years.  I had a younger brother who was the apple of our mother’s eye.  Let’s put it this way:  When she was pregnant the first time, the only name they had ready was a boy’s name.  When a daughter was born, they scrambled to come up with something else.  Hopeful and confident, they approached the second pregnancy the same way. Once again they were disappointed and had to come up with a girl’s name.  Finally, on the third try, the SON was born. To say he was the golden child should seem obvious.  There were problems, though, that I think my sister and I noticed first: he had serious anger issues.  At 8 and 10, we figured out on our own how to hold him tightly until the anger passed.  Once he cried, we learned the worst was over. The parents accepted this years later.

Other issues resulting from being a middle child stung. I had no baby book.  When I asked my mother why, she laughed and said she’d been resting up between Big Sis and Little Bro.  I am sure she didn’t say that to be mean but to a child, it hurt and never completely healed.  There were only a couple baby pictures of me. As we got older, Big Sis, the first born, had huge fights with Mom. Oh, the fights they had!  I would go hide until they were over and try not to hear. Little Bro, four years younger than me, found drugs and petty crime while I was away at college.  Every time my mother called me, it was to complain about my brother, not to ask about me. She actually brought him to my college graduation as part of a plan she and my father had hatched.  My father took him to a military recruiting center after the ceremony.  My parents had both been military and believed it would bring structure and discipline to my brother’s life.  They were wrong but it was a step they took out of desperation and hope.

So, you can see why I thought it was terrible to be a middle child.  Then, one day, in a local paper, there was a column entitled, “If You Ask Me: Consider the Charm and Grace of the Middle Child” by Kim Masters.  All these years later, I still have it in my dresser drawer.  So, Kim, if you’re out there, thanks. Her column pointed out that first-born are raised in an experimental lab, subjected to “all the errors made by overanxious and misguided parents”.  The baby, on the other hand, has parents who, realizing that they’ve had their last child, spoil it from birth.  Ms. Masters says, “the child gets the idea, once shared by its oldest sibling, that it is the center of the universe.  Unlike the oldest, however, the baby rarely discovers the error of this notion.”  The middle child benefits from lessons parents learned on the first born, never has illusions about the position it occupies in the world, and learns that being pleasant and easy-going is the best way to get along in the world.  Many become diplomats and humanitarians, including Thomas Jefferson, John Kennedy, George H.W. Bush and the Dalai Lama. “Ah-hah”, I thought. Clearly, my pay-off for my childhood was that I was destined for great things.

I have four children so at least two qualify as middle-children.  Do they have baby books?  Childhood photo albums?  You betcha.  Did I take issues about the younger siblings to the older?  No way.  Nor did I ever make the younger ones be subjected to the any on-going struggles of their big sibs.  I also think there are a lot of different factors that also go into the make up of a child’s personality, achievement and life pattern  I choose to believe this quote from Wallace Stegner in “Crossing to Safety”:

Talent, I tell him, believing what I say, is at least half luck. It isn’t as if our baby lips were touched with a live coal, and therefore we lisp in numbers  or talk in tongues. We were lucky in our parents, teachers, experience, circumstances, friends, times, physical and mental endowment, or we are not.

No one is trapped or defined by their birth order.  Its just one more influence on who we become and how we handle it is probably just as strong a factor. The article I found from Ms. Master’s showed me how to look at birth order differently and, freed, I found other paths to become who I was to be.

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Did You Hear about the Mother-in-Law Who…?

Today is my mother-in-law’s birthday.  It would be totally understandable if the rest of the post told humorous stories, with laughs mostly at her expense.  But here is the not-so-dirty secret, the one I’m proud to share:  I love my mother-in-law!

Now, I can’t say that it was love right from the start.  We first met on a first date – hers and mine.  My husband and I invited his parents to join us to see a play at a local theatre.  We hadn’t been dating all that long at that point, but we both knew it was a serious relationship.  We went into the theatre, located our seats and the men headed back to the lobby for a minute.  In that short time, she let me know in no uncertain terms that my husband had dated quite a few girls and really could choose from among them. Wow!  Where do you go with that?  Also, I am a girl from the south; she is very much a New Englander with a brusque way of speaking and a vocabulary which sometimes needed a translation dictionary.  Who, after all says “divan” when they clearly mean “couch” or “sofa”?  “Bureau” rather than “chest of drawers” or “dresser”?  To give her credit, this was a wonderful son who really hadn’t been any trouble dating a girl who had just recently moved to the area, came from a “broken home”.  That was true on a lot of levels.  My parents were divorced and both remarried, able to be civil to each other as long as you didn’t push it. One of my siblings was in and out of jail with 4 small children and addiction issues.  My mother and I did not have a wonderful relationship.  Not what you envision for your child. 

So she and I danced carefully and slowly and our relationship made small steps forward.  I learned that what I thought was “brusque” was just a part of her heritage and she learned that I was supportive of her son and , well, not bad for him…yet.  When we were engaged, she and her husband congratulated us and helped where and how they could.  Steps forward.  Sometimes, steps back. When we told them I was pregnant after 18 months of marriage, the response was underwhelming.  I think it was, “Oh”.  At some point in the pregnancy, she made it clear that she did not intend to ever do childcare for her grandchildren but became more enthusiastic. Over the years, I’d learn that that was her way – to absorb news slowly and react later. It had nothing to do with me.

And so, that pregnancy proved to be the turning point.  As I said, I didn’t have a wonderful relationship with my mother and really hoped to raise my children differently than I was.  My mother also lived out of the area.  When my mother-in-law (I’ll call her Sally) offered to come help right after my daughter was born, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A great first step was the best stew I’d ever had waiting at my front door when I got home from the hospital. I was starving and it was delicious.  Then she came over to help.

So gently did she help that I didn’t realize how she was teaching me while cooing to her new, first grandchild.  “Now mommy is going to support your head and neck while she rinses off your hair”, she told my child.  It would have been so easy for her to take over but she never tried.  From there, our relationship blossomed.  While she was helping me with the baby, we discussed recipes, family and  more and found we got along well.  I learned her sense of humor and mine were actually very similar. After I read the book, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, Sally asked me which character I identified with. This led to a discussion about how the men in the family had all married strong women. Three more children later, I consider her one of my very good friends.  I’ve long felt she was someone I could go to when I had a challenge, frustration, or more often, a great funny story about the kids.  As the children became adults, they learned to count her as a friend as well. She has weekly dinners now that are open to the adult grandchildren.  It’s a chance for them to develop adult friendships and she enjoys having them there.  I tell her she actually has a classic ‘salon’, where ideas are exchanged and conversations are enjoyed.

So Happy Birthday, Sally!  Thanks for being my mother and my friend, even if you did cancel out a lifetime of mother-in-law jokes.

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Sunday Dinners

Family Photo

I thought it only fair to start with a picture of my family as I was growing up.  These are my relatives on my mother’s side.  My grandparents had 7 children and many of them had large families, too.  For so many years, it was a Sunday tradition to ride to my grandparents’ house ( a 45 minute trip) and have dinner with the clan. This was great, traditional southern food including, of course, fried chicken and vegetables and mashed potatoes.

I dreaded it every week.  Not only was the ride long, but none of my cousins were my age and some of them considered us “city slickers”.  With no peers to play with, I’d go inside with my grandmother and the other women only to get told to go outside because I was underfoot.

But how I loved my grandfather! (I’m the one right in front of him in the picture.) He’d sit and talk to me and teach me as if he was sure I was up to the challenge.  He’d tell me about his family in Northern Ireland, and current news, money issues and life.  From him I learned what behavior was expected and why.  Even more important, I learned his great faith.  When I saw him as an old man kneel down beside his bed to pray at night, I learned humility.

Now, so many years have gone by.  I only see most of the relatives at funerals, sad to say.  It matters to me now to see even the ones who were much younger than me and it seems so important to catch up and meet their spouses and their children.  It turns out that those Sunday dinners left lasting memories for us all and a lasting connection for which I am grateful.

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Hello World!

We all of us have so many facets to who we are.  When we’re young, there’s the family side, the school friend side, the sports side, the school side and so on.  When we grow up, we’re parents, co-workers, spouses and more. And beyond those obvious aspects of who we are there are various other aspects of what makes you you. Music you like, books that moved, inspired or educated you, how you like to socialize; there is an endless list of ingredients that make us unique.

I’m hoping this blog will be a chance to explore some of the facets of my own personality and life and invite you to join in and share, laugh and compare and contrast.